July 13, 2016
Memphis, TN and Charleston, NC are the ends of the first railroad to connect the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Ocean. This railroad is known as the Transatlantic Railroad or the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. In March 1857, it was completed and in May of that same year was commemorated by a festive affair in Memphis called “Wedding of the Waters.” The event featured a parade that is said to have attracted between 25,000 and 30,000 people as well as a number of dignitaries from all over the southern United States. The main event of the celebration was when the waters were wed by a Charleston fire engine pumping water from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mississippi River. Following the wedding was a massive feast boasting more than 10,000 attendees, a grand ball, and a fireworks show. The affair was said to be the “the greatest demonstration of popular joy ever witnessed in the Mississippi Valley.” The celebration was so well received that a similar event was staged in Charleston with a fire engine traveling from Memphis the following month with water from the Mississippi River.
The Transatlantic Railroad was an alternative transportation route to the Tennessee River which was difficult to navigate. This resource, coupled with the Mississippi River, helped fortify Memphis’s prowess as a transportation hub. Considering that automobiles and airplanes weren’t in the picture during this time period, Memphis had exceptional access to the two major modes of transportation, trains and steamboats. This was the first railroad that to be operated as a national or long-haul railroad. Up until this time railroad were built on a much more local scale. During the Civil War, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad had the capability to serve as a vital supply line, which was an advantage for Confederate forces. After unsuccessful attempts by land, Union forces used the Tennessee River to take control of the railroad at the Corinth and Pittsburgh Landing. Northern forces strengthened their stronghold over the railroad by seizing Huntsville’s rail yard. This move forced southern troops to continue the rest of the Civil War without access to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad.
The war resulted in damages to not only the rail line but also the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company. Despite these challenges, the railroad was reopened to traffic by July of 1866, little more than one year after the Civil War ended. In 1887, the US Government mandated that the Florence Bridge in Florence, Alabama be rebuilt because it hindered travel on the Tennessee River. Part of the mandate was that the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Company pay for this rebuilding. This expense proved too much to bear by the railroad company as it was still recovering from the tumultuous Civil War. The rail line was later procured by the Southern Railway.
Bradford, D. (n.d.). The Memphis & Charleston Railroad 1851-1865. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://www.scottsborodepotmuseum.com/history/m&c_history_prewar.html
Ison, K. L. (n.d.). The Railroad Rolls In To Collierville! Retrieved July 11, 2016, from https://historyofcollierville.wikispaces.com/Railroad#cite_note-15
Lawless, S. (2009, May 4). Florence. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2121
Official Guide of the Railways. (n.d.). Memphis & Charleston Railroad, 1874 map. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from http://railga.com/memcharl74map.html